“I Was Wr … Wr … Wr … Wrong”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
So … before we begin … let me ask,
“Does anyone need to leave to go make peace with your brother?”
“Does anyone need to make amends
with their sister?”
“Does anyone have a beef with your
We are all good?
If you do need to run out, just be
discreet. Just leave your offering at the altar. We will not look. We will not
Also before we start, let me also
alert some of the younger folks in the sanctuary and online. I may make a
couple of references to older television series, so feel free to fire up the
Google app on your phones. I know that they are all on, so be ready. If you
would like a head start, you can Google: “Arthur Fonzarelli” and “Eddie
As we continue in our exploration of
the Sermon on the Mount, we have come to a section that many scholars and
interpreters refer to as ‘the Six Antitheses.’ This is the section in which
Jesus directly addresses some to the ancient laws of the Hebrew people. I only
chose to focus upon the first one, but the remaining five follow the same basic
“You have heard it said to people
long ago, … but I say to you …”
Jesus is employing a particular
teaching method, and it may sound is if he is repudiating the ancient Jewish
Law. However, you may recall in our last couple of messages that Jesus told the
people that he did NOT come to reject the Law. Rather, he came to FULFILL the
So then, with that in mind, we can
see that in this foundational sermon, Jesus was not rejecting the law. What he
was doing was extending the law. He said, “You have heard it said to the people
of old, that ‘you shall not murder.’ Yes … murder is bad. Yes … murder is
forbidden. It is the worst possible act. But I say to you, ‘Even thinking about
murder is also a sin.”
The ancient law that governed the
life of the Jewish people addressed wide variety of activities and behaviors.
And he was saying that those behaviors that tore down relationships were
definitely bad. But then he went further, he extended the law. He said that
even the thought that leads to the behavior is bad. The Law referred to an
action. Jesus spoke about the attitude, the content of one’s heart.
This may come as a surprise to you,
but I have never killed anyone.
But … have I ever been so angry with
someone that I wanted to inflict bodily harm?
Admittedly, Jesus began with the
most extreme example to teach this lesson. He knows that most people have not
committed the heinous act of murder. But he also knows that most of us have
harbored anger in our hearts. Yes, murder is a horrific act that takes away
someone’s life. But anger is an attitude that destroys relationships and tears
Especially anger that lingers.
Especially anger that smolders like the fires of Gehenna. Gehenna was a place
of evil, a place of eternal fire where evil doers are punished. It is the dung
heap, the garbage dump.
We may not be angry to the point of
committing murder, but anger is a destroyer. Anger is corrosive. Anger builds
upon anger. Anger is shared and communicated. Anger is passed down from
generation to generation. Anger is inflicted upon those around us.
Anger bears grudges. “You did
something that bothers me, or hurt me, and I am going to hold it against you
Anger breeds contempt. The sin of
anger is bad, but the sin of contempt is worse. Contempt is rooted in
judgement. It is rooted in arrogance. Contempt leads to unequal, imbalanced
relationships in which one party believes that they are superior to the other. “I
am right, and YOU are wrong!” “I am good, and you are bad!”
Lingering, smoldering anger can lead
to vengeance, retribution and retaliation.
Now, let me say that Jesus
recognizes that there will be times when someone injures us, insults us, or
offends us, and our anger will flash. That is a natural human reaction. We even
know that Jesus’ anger flashed and flared at times. In this lesson, Jesus is
not saying that some anger is good and other anger is bad. All anger does have
potential negative impact upon our lives and the lives of those around us. But
what Jesus was referring to in this lesson was an attitude of anger. He was
referring to people that carry anger around with them.
This passage followers after Jesus’
declaration that we are the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. If we
are going to be Light, we cannot allow anger and resentment to close the
shutters of our hearts. We cannot allow anger to obscure the Light.
As light, we are to build
relationships. We are to restore relationships that have been damaged. We are
to practice reconciliation.
And that is where grace enters in.
That is where the act and heart of forgiveness is foundational. Extending
grace, offering forgiveness repairs and restores relationships. Forgiveness breaks
the chains that bind the other, and it also releases the chains that bind us.
Forgiveness sets us free from the prison of anger and resentment. Forgiveness
break hearts of stone and allows new life to grow.
Of course, the act and offer of forgiveness
has to be sincere and genuine. False or performative forgiveness can establish
yet another imbalance in the damaged relationship. “Look at me. I am so good
that I am offering you forgiveness. I am so gracious.”
How many of you used to watch, “Leave
it to Beaver”? Do you remember Eddie Haskell? He was always so sweet and
charming … smarmy … when he spoke to Mister and Missus Cleaver. “Oh yes, Missus
Cleaver.” “Oh yes, Mister Cleaver.” But the viewers knew that it was all an
act. We knew that he was not sincere. We knew that he was a troublemaker.
Our apology must not be phony or
performative. It must be sincere and genuine.
And even more, we need to recognize
our own need for forgiveness. We need to recognize that there are times when we
need to ask the other for forgiveness for something that we have done. And
again, it must be sincere and genuine. We cannot offer that phony, empty
apology, “I am so sorry that you took what I said the wrong way. I am so sorry
that you were offended by something that I did.”
Those are back-handed apologies that
still place the blame or the onus on the other. We need to be willing to say,
“I am sorry that I hurt you.”
We have to consider for a moment
that WE might be the jerk in the room. We might be the jerk in the
relationship. We might be the one that is causing the other pain.
That can be difficult to do. We do
not like to admit fault.
Do you remember to old television
series, ‘Happy Days’? Do you remember what phrase The Fonz could not say? He could
not say, “I was wrrr …” “I was wrrrrrr…” “I was not … the thing that you said.”
He could not say, “I was wrong.” And
many of us have difficulty saying it too.
However, the foundation to healthy
community is upright and healthy relationships. It is possessing genuine care
and concern for one another. It is the willingness to recognize our own faults,
and to seek reconciliation with those that we may have hurt or harmed. Our
willingness to ask for forgiveness releases the other from the anger that they
may be holding onto.
In order for there to be true and
genuine reconciliation, there has to be confession. We cannot truly repair or
restore a damaged relationship unless we are willing to confess our role, our
fault, and our failing. Jesus is telling us that we cannot have a proper
relationship with God unless we have a healthy and proper relationship with our
The Sermon on the Mount is the
foundation upon which the Kin-dom of God is built. And Jesus reminds us all of
the greatest commandment of them all: “You shall love the Lord you God with all
of your heart, soul and strength. And the second is like it: you shall love
your neighbor as yourself.” The Kin-dom of God boils down to that. Love God and
love your neighbor. We cannot come before God until and unless we have loved
We are the ones that erect barriers
between ourselves and God by erecting barriers between ourselves and our
neighbors. God does not cut us off. God does not push us away. God does not
say, “I am sick of that one there!” God is always there waiting, offering
grace. We create obstacles. We create distance.
Restoring and maintaining right
relationships means that we have to have the humility to confess that we are wr
… wr … wrong. We have to be willing to see that there are times when we are the
ones that caused the other pain. And we have to be willing to ask … to beg …
for their forgiveness.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are
light. As light, we are called to take the higher road. We are called to do the
better thing. We are called in every instance to practice the Way of Love.
If we are wrong, we must be willing
to confess that.
If we are wrong, we must be willing
to humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness.
If we have been wronged, we must be
willing to seek ways to let the anger pass before it turns into something
destructive, before it spreads throughout our community.
If we have been wronged, we must be
willing to take the first step toward reconciliation.
As the Beloved Children of God, as
bearers of light, we are called to walk the way of love. Love God with all that
we are. Love our neighbors. Every step that we take on the Way of Love invites
others to join us.
Let us walk. Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072207-283-3771